1 May 2003 Edition

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Strong team for Derry contest

Over 600 republicans crowded into the Rialto theatre in Derry city centre on Monday night to launch the Sinn Féin campaign for the upcoming Assembly Elections to be held at the end of May.

The meeting also endorsed the party's three candidates for an election in which Sinn Féin intends to make further advances in the Foyle constituency.

Party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin and Mary Nelis, both sitting Assembly members, are in the running again this time out. The party is pinning its hopes for a third seat in the constituency on former hunger striker Raymond McCartney.

The conditions for Sinn Féin to eat into the SDLP vote in Foyle are at an all-time high given the recent turmoil in the SDLP's Foyle Constituency party. Former Assembly member Annie Courtney, who was selected as a candidate at the end of 2002, however this decision was overturned in a recalled selection meeting. Courtney, angered by the decision, has decided to run as an Independent.

John Hume's retirement as SDLP leader and decision to stand down as an Assemby member means the former leader's attraction as a vote getter may also hurt the party.

The main speaker at the Rialto meeting was republican activist Brian Keenan. He told the meeting that republicans are "off our knees and we aren't going back on them". He told those present that "the struggle is not over and there is a lot of work yet to be done".

Endorsing the three Foyle candidates, he told those present to g"o out and do the work and get them elected. Where would you get three better candidates?"

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